By Ward Shope
We have a memorial service at the church tomorrow. The woman, who died very suddenly, is not a member of our church, but was deeply embedded in the local community and was active in a ministry our church supports. Some in our church grew up with her as close friends. Others who are younger experienced her as a mentor. While I didn’t know her personally, I see the grief and the tears that suddenly and unexpectedly appear, along with the fondness of memories shared. No one was ready to give her up, and my own heart grieves for my friends.
My own father died while our family was living overseas. He and Mom had come to Amsterdam in February to babysit our kids as Debbie and I were away for a week on a business trip. His newfound attraction to lawn bowling on TV at that time was punctuated by a persistent cough. Though he had quit smoking 20 years earlier, he was soon diagnosed with lung cancer and told that he might live only six months more. He submitted to chemo, but it didn’t help.
When October came, just after 9/11, we were convinced that we needed to get home while he was well enough to relate to our kids and us. During that week, he started out very lucid but began to deteriorate before our eyes. Half way through our visit, he had trouble communicating what he wanted so badly to say – though most of the time I knew what he meant when the words wandered and the sentence was left hanging. Before we left, he was in the hospital. He never came home, dying 10 days after we returned. It was almost as if he were just waiting for us to get there. Maybe he was.
We all experience the loss when someone we know dies. The person just isn’t there anymore. It’s sobering. Human mortality becomes obvious whether we speak of it or not. Some try to be philosophical about it by saying death is a part of life. But no one dies philosophically. The body and the memories must be dealt with.
As believers, Jesus is Lord of Life – but also of death. No one is lost to Him if they know Him. All who are loved by Him as brothers or sisters always know Him as brothers or sisters. All who have the companionship of Jesus’ Spirit living within them will never experience a moment when his Spirit is not with them. Imagine, the King of the universe walking each believer personally through the passage of death – chatting with them as they go – walking you through your own death, closer than a brother or sister or spouse in this life. All whom He befriends go with Him whether they are fearful or not.
It isn’t because we won His permanent bond of friendship by our good qualities and commitment. No one does, including the person whom we are losing now. We may or may not choose to remember their sins. But remembering may not always be bad. It reminds us again of how great a Savior Jesus is and what He did for us. Goodness knows, we will face our own sense of sin at death whether we remember theirs or not.
But Jesus is the sin taker, and the righteousness giver. Easter teaches us there is only one Believer who has ever been totally abandoned at His death – taking our judgement. For the rest of us, His abandonment led to our companionship with Him even in our own death hour. He is a Friend worth pursuing.
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 2:8-11